I’m long overdue making this post for several reasons, but mainly because there are no words. Nothing can describe the last two weeks in sufficient detail to honor what we witnessed. “Miracle” doesn’t do justice because that word is so loosely thrown around anymore, but it will have to do because the events of the last two weeks are the very essence of miraculous.
Mom called almost exactly at 7am on Monday morning, January 6. There was an available liver and we had 3 hours to arrive at the hospital. Her tone was a little less excited than the previous time, but then again, we knew what we were up against this time. That, and there had been a “Polar Vortex” the night before and Glasgow was nicely coated in about an inch of snow with a thick sheet of ice glazing the top, so travel was a major concern this go-around. Soon after speaking with mom, I talked to Christy who was also less ‘excited,’ but we got our arrangements made and it was game on. (again.) In the 20 minutes or so before Sonny and his family arrived to get me, I think I packed and repacked my bag 17 times, all while wearing 46 layers of clothing in preparation for the temps of said “Polar Vortex.” In my hasty bag-packing-induced sweating, Michael asked if I was wearing so many layers because we were walking to Louisville instead of driving. His humor was not appreciated.
I was able to squeeze my baby and my husband good-bye this time, and when Sonny arrived, he ushered me out the door saying, “ok, this here is slick, but that up there is REALLY slick, so be careful. You know what – just crawl.” It was a mess. Thankfully in the morning planning, mom was savvy enough to realize there was no way she could travel in this weather and arranged for Sonny to do all the driving, so after getting me, we were off to mom and dad’s (also known as the land of the giant hills) to get them loaded up and head to Louisville.
As expected, the hills were terrible. Solid ice coated the roads and several times we all held our breaths just praying we’d make it up and down safely. We finally got to their house, got them loaded and since Sonny drove their vehicle, Christy took over driving me and the kids. I thought she might throw up before we could even get out of the driveway, she was so nervous. Shaking, we slowly headed out of the neighborhood and actually saw an accident that had just occurred and just had to wave at the poor people who were clearly not hurt, but who probably wondered why we didn’t at least stop to ask if we could help. We said a prayer for them and hoped they would understand what we had ahead of us.
Once we made it off county roads and on to main highways, the conditions improved and as Christy’s nausea subsided, we all breathed a little easier. Payne and Graycen were champs already, not having uttered a word while their mother navigated horrible roads. Bless their hearts.
The 110 minute trip seemed to take forever this time. Everyone had a sense of hesitancy about getting too excited after what happened last time, but we still were hopeful and figured if God got us to Louisville safely, then something good was bound to come of it this time. It had to.
Check-in was faster and we were led to a different part of the hospital this time – and then we saw this sign and it kinda hit us in the face.
Dad was being placed to wait in the actual transplant center – like, he was among post-transplant patients. This was going to happen. We were more than hopeful, this was real.
We waited much like we did the last time, not knowing much and still with a twinge of fear that we would be told to go home, but once that precarious 4pm came and went, we had a pretty good idea they weren’t holding dad just for the heck of it. And at 10pm, we got the word we were waiting for: surgery was scheduled for 7am. GAME ON!
So we could all get at least a shot at some rest, mom had made arrangements at a nearby hotel and everyone but her (she stayed with dad) headed over to “rest” for about 5 hours before we needed to be back at the hospital before his surgery. So the six of us piled into the room – Sonny, Christy and the kids took the beds while me and dad’s sister Lou bunked up on the pull out couch.
It was like being at camp. Lou and I chatted after we laid down and thanks to nerves, I got a case of the giggles. Then Payne talked in his sleep. ALL NIGHT. Between his bouts of talking was Sonny whisper-yelling, “Payne, lay down! Payne, turn around!” It was a circus and I don’t think any of us actually slept. But who could sleep anyway.
At 6am, we rolled into the hospital in sub-zero temperatures and began the waiting process prior to surgery. Not surprisingly, surgery was delayed until 9am, and after dad was taken to pre-op, we were sent to a freezing cold waiting room to hang out until we were called back to see dad before he went into surgery. The tension was thick.
Somehow, we struggled through the hour and half wait before we could kiss dad one last time with his old liver and we were finally sent back to see him. He was so calm, even before they had given him something to relax him. When the anesthesiologist said it was time, the emotional charge couldn’t be contained any longer and we all leaned in one at a time to hug and kiss him, not knowing what the future held. Dad hugged each of us as best he could while every cord and wire stuck out of him like some kind of frayed machine and told us all, “it’s going to be OK.” He told us it would be ok. The man is super-human. We wiped our tears, put on our brave faces, and headed out to wait.
Since the waiting room we had previously been shown to was less than stellar to begin with and was even worse because of the lack of heat, Sonny and I scoped out a nicer (and empty) waiting area in the heart-lung center across the walkway from the main hospital. Mom arranged for the surgery nurse to call her cell phone directly with updates, so we thankfully could wait wherever we chose.
The first update didn’t come for 3 hours. We didn’t know why at the time (we would find out after surgery) but were told everything was going smoothly and that dad was doing great. Hallelujah.
I managed to find a somewhat comfortable position to sleep and rested for a while before the next update came saying that the old liver was out and that they were preparing the new one. Everything was still going well and dad was handling the surgery beautifully. The other updates followed suit, and at about 5:30, we were told they were wrapping up and to head back over to the main hospital to wait for the surgeon and then around 6:45, we got word that he was in ICU recovery!! It was over!!
Within the next 20 minutes or so, the surgeon appeared and began to tell us about the surgery. For some reason, it hit me that I should record it on my phone, even if I just got the sound because the likelihood of any of us remembering specifically what he said was slim, considering the condition we were in. I can’t post the video here, so I’ll summarize as best I can because the words he uttered were more wonderful than we ever – EVER – thought we would hear.
He started by explaining that the reason it took so long at the beginning of the surgery was that he had a bit of a time getting through the scar tissue and remnants of his gall bladder surgery last year and that he wanted to make sure everything was in perfect shape with all of that before he got to the actual transplant. He told us how wonderful the new liver was and that one of the ‘scariest’ parts of transplant surgeries is when they unclamp the new organ, whether it will start functioning or take awhile, etc., but when they unclamped dad’s liver, no problem. It “pinked-up” immediately and started producing bile and functioning beautifully. Hallelujah! He also couldn’t say enough about how well dad did during the surgery – with all of his previous issues a concern, nothing gave them trouble – his blood pressure was good through the whole thing, his heart was strong – he was a “perfect patient.” Again, hallelujah!
He then proceeded to tell us that now that the surgery had taken place, he could share with us just how special this liver is – that they had actually passed up a few liver offers waiting for the perfect one for dad.
You could have knocked us all over with a feather at this point as our eyes welled with tears of thankfulness and joy that God had put our special man in the care of such fantastic doctors. That they had enough verve and confidence to wait for the perfect organ for dad absolutely floored us. That wasn’t just the doctors – that was GOD.
As we wrapped up with the surgeon, the waiting area quickly turned into a hug-and-cry venue as we all just passed each other around and let all of the pent-up anxiety and fear rush out of our exhausted bodies, trying to absorb what we had just heard. Short of the hearing my baby’s first cry, this was the best moment of my life. And I think I speak for all of us. It was, after all, dad’s second birthday.
When we finally gathered ourselves, we headed up to the ICU waiting area where me, mom, Sonny and Lou would wait to go see him briefly. I was hesitant about this, but after the exhilaration of what had just happened, I was prepared and I wanted to see my daddy, the miracle man. Mom and Sonny went back first and came back smiling, so I wasn’t surprised when Lou and I went back to see that he looked fantastic. We all breathed a sigh of relief, even though what had just happened really hadn’t “sunk in” yet.
Everyone but me headed home as I stayed to go with mom to the hotel. It was kind of a comedy of errors between she and I as you can well imagine with the adrenaline starting to wear down a bit and the exhaustion taking over. But we made it and rested surprisingly well.
The next morning would greet us with dad in his usual post-anesthesia fog/agitation and that would ultimately set the tone for the next couple of days while they found the best way to manage his pain and accompanying post-surgery issues. While he was the perfect in-surgery patient, he kinda made up for that afterward as it seemed to become his mission to pull out anything that he wasn’t supposed to – like his ventilator tube, his drain tubes, and ultimately is A-line, (which mom and I quickly learned that if you want to get the attention of all the nurses in the immediate vicinity, tell them a patient has pulled their A-line out. Luckily, dad’s had already clotted.) Nonetheless, he was doing well and recovering as well as could be expected, and by Saturday – just 4 days after surgery – he was moved to the regular transplant floor to continue recovery. Again, we were ecstatic and so grateful. SO grateful.
The next few days were relatively low-key and were met with more good news when on Tuesday – ONE WEEK since major TRANSPLANT surgery, remember – the main doctor uttered the words that he would be going home in the next day or two. WHAT?! And sure enough, Wednesday, January 15, Dad came home.
And here it is the 21st, almost a week after he got home, barely two weeks since he had surgery, and we’re all in still a bit of shock. After living in go-mode waiting for “the call” for a few months, it almost seems odd going to bed without your cell phone ringer on super-loud or not having to make sure your bag is still fully packed. It’s WONDERFUL.
Mom and dad are doing well and dad is getting stronger every day. Mom is managing things that baffle even the most sound nurses and is doing so like she’s been a professional nurse her whole life. It’s still a balancing act with the many medications, therapy, blood work, etc. but at least they’re getting to learn to balance all of that from the comfort of their own home.
Like I said before, I know words don’t even come close to describe what we have experienced. Sonny and I spoke in church on Sunday to update the church family on dad’s condition and other things on our hearts, and he said it best by saying that “the presence of God has been palpable through this whole experience.”
We knew getting a dad a new liver would help him get better. I don’t think any of us expected the revival it stirred in the rest of us.